The Role of Formal Theory in Social Work Research: Formalizing Family Systems Theory

  • Suzanne Taylor Sutphin University of South Carolina
  • Shannon McDonough Allen University
  • Amber Schrenkel University of South Carolina
Keywords: Family systems theory, formal theory, social work research

Abstract

Formal theories are critical to accumulating knowledge through scientific research to advance the discipline and practice. The use of formal theory in social work research is currently absent. Family Systems Theory (FST) is commonly used in social work; however, it currently lacks the criteria to be considered a formal theory. We use FST to demonstrate the formalization process and its potential effect on social work research and practice. Currently, FST is being used as a perspective, to develop theories and models used in marriage and family therapy, and to develop assessment tools. We identify the components of a formal theory while presenting a formal version of FST. Directions for future research are suggested including the benefits of using formal theory to direct scientific research and guide the development of evidence-based practice.

Author Biographies

Suzanne Taylor Sutphin, University of South Carolina
The Center for Child and Family Studies College of Social Work University of South Carolina Research Assistant Professor
Shannon McDonough, Allen University
Social Sciences and Public Health Assistant Professor
Amber Schrenkel, University of South Carolina
College of Social Work
Published
2013-10-06
Section
Articles